St. Paul Catholic Church was organized in 1876 to serve forty German Catholic families who lived in the area south of 18th Street and west of the south branch of the Chicago River. Bishop Thomas Foley appointed Rev. Emmerich Weber a native of Treves, Germany, as a pastor of the new national parish.
At first, Father Weber conducted services in a small cottage owned by Mathias Regaler. To meet the needs of his rapidly growing congregation, the pastor acquired a stable and the frame building was moved from Ashland Avenue to the parish property and was outfitted as a combination of church and school. About 1879, Father Weber purchased a large frame building at 21st and Fisk (now Carpenter Street) from St. Francis of Assisi Parish. This structure was relocated in the Fall of 1880.
In 1881, a new school containing four classrooms was built. A second story was added to this structure which provided rectory quarters. This building remains standing and forms part of Casa Claret, a home and source of leadership experience of young men in studies sponsored by the Claretian Fathers who administer the parish. The former church quarters were converted into a residence for the Franciscan Sisters who staffed St. Paul School from 1883 to 1889.
In 1888 Rev. George Heldmann began his tenure as a pastor. One of his first projects involved the construction of a large school, the cornerstone of which was laid on September 18, 1892. The three story brick school, located at 2114 West 22nd Place was dedicated on September 3,1893. The School Sisters of Notre Dame had begun their long years of service to the parish in 1889. As a tribute of their commitment, the children of the school, in the every year it was opened, won awards for excellence at the World Columbian Exposition of 1892. The school, built at a cost of forty thousand dollars, was the most modern invest equipped school at that time.
The cornerstone of a new church had been laid on September 12, 1886; however, only the basement was completed and there the people would celebrate Mass for over twelve years. Under Fr. Heldmann, this basement structure was torn down and on that site, the pastor commissioned a young architect named Henry J. Schlacks to design the church. Most of the actual construction was done by parishoners who were skilled bricklayers and masons. The first Gothic church in America, St. Paul Church is known as the church “built without a nail”.
One of the few completely fireproof edifices in the city, St. Paul Church was dedicated in imposing ceremonies by Archbishop Patrick Feehan on June 25th, 1899. In April, 1900, approximately 4,000 persons belonged to the parish and 726 children were enrolled in the school.
The silver jubilee of this parish was celebrated on June 30th, 1901. In the following year, the present rectory, also designed by Schlacks, was completed and dedicated.
In 1904, Archbishop Quigley entrusted this parish to the Benedictine Fathers of St. Vincent Archabbey, Beatty, Pa. During the pastorate of Rev. Bruno Staudigl, OSB, for bells were donated, cement sidewalks and entrances to the buildings were laid, and the high altar and the altar railing of Carrara marble were installed.
Following Fr. Staudigl’s death, Rev. Leonard Schlimm began his long tenure as pastor. Once the parish debt was paid, a new pastor turned his attention to completing the church interior according to the original plans.
The marble floor, pulpit and side altars were installed as well as the more than 2,500 square feet of mosaic. Most outstanding are the faces of the twelve Apostles and Christ. The installation of the stained glass windows completed the initial project. The newly redecorated edifice, an outstanding specimen of ecclesiastical art, was reopened that on December 7, 1930. On September 30, 1951, Fr. Schlimm rejoined his congregation in celebrating the diamond jubilee of the founding of St. Paul Parish.
In May, 1966, Archdiocesan officials announced that St. Paul Church would once again be staffed by diocesan priests. Rev. Kenneth Klose served as a pastor for two years. Rev. Philip Guerin served as a pastor form 1968 until 1987. In 1970, the schools of St. Paul and Our Lady of Vilna parishes were combined. Children in the lower grades were taught in the Our Lady of Vilna building and upper grades attended at St. Paul’s. When Our Lady of Vilna was closed in 1987, all students were moved to the St. Paul parish plant. The Sister’s of St. Casimir continued to serve in the school.
With the close of Our Lady of Vilna parish and the retirement of Fr. Philip Guerin after nineteen years of service at St. Paul Parish, the Claretian Fathers assumed responsibilities for the parish with Rev. Severino Lopez as pastor.
Today St. Paul church is no longer exclusively a German parish. St. Paul now serves approximately five hundred families of many ethnic backgrounds but predominantly of Hispanic descent. Services are offered in English and Spanish.
The pastor, Fr. Michael P. Enright, and parishioners continue in the spirit of those who have gone before us. We continue to strive for excellence and to realize the plans and visions we have set for ourselves as we create St. Paul Parish for the coming years.